>Tapping the power of commercials

>The following is a post of mine to the TESL-L teacher list in May 2006:

A teacher asks, “What makes a commercial more or less useful for classroom use? If you had to choose between two commercials to use in your class, how would you make the choice?”

I think commercials are becoming increasingly sophisticated as advertisers rely more and more on the soft sell approach. No longer can the housewife hold a box of Tide and say, “Cleans clothes whiter!” Now in 60 minutes you often have a drama played out by movie stars where a setting is created, characters introduced, a story develops, tension is added and then the plot twist with some ironic or funny ending. They are actually a mini-movie and sometimes more enjoyable than the TV show or movie that we intended to watch.

SOUND OFF. STUDENTS “A” WATCH. STUDENTS “B” FACE THE BACK OF THE CLASSROOM.

In one Budweiser commercial called “Girlfriend” three girls are sitting at a sidewalk café when one nudges the other, points and says something that we don’t hear as the audio is off. As they look on they see the back of the convertible at the stop light with a handsome guy and a girl with long blond hair. Then he reaches over and begins stroking her hair. We can see one of the girls is very upset. The guy answers his mobile phone ring and is saying something.

CUT! OK, STUDENTS “A” FACE THE BACK OF THE CLASS STUDENTS “B” WATCH THE SCREEN. ROLL IT!

As the guy is talking on his phone the camera pans over to his passenger, an Afghan dog with beautiful long blonde fur and he pats it on the head.

OK, STUDENTS “A” AND “B” TALK TOGETHER AND SEE IF YOU CAN FIGURE OUT THE STORY.

Watch this commercial here. As you watch it, think about the affect it will have on your students if they have seen half of the commercial and tried to talk with their partners about the other half.

I look for commercials with a plot twist that will at first perplex the students when they try to piece the story together and then surprise them when they see (and hear) it all together.

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Directors put a lot of effort in creating a powerful sense of mystery, suspense, curiosity in their commercials. To simply show a commercial straight through crashes through all of that in 30-60 seconds. But you can stretch out the affect, a driving force of their tremendous desire to satisfy that curiosity.

Then this desire powers the students into the English. They search all of their English resources for a way to communicate with their partner to resolve this mystery. Students get fully engaged in these exercises. They even forget it is an English “lesson” yet they are using English.

After partners have tried to figure out the story of the commercial, I have one partner “B” tell the class what “A” told him. Then another partner “A” tells us what “B” told him. This offers the students a chance to tell a story and use reported speech. All students listen intently as they are very curious about the story as well.

To extend the exercise, while the students are telling what their partner told them, you can write it up for all to see. Write it the way they say it with bad grammar and all. Get suggestions on how to improve the grammar, vocabulary or even the story’s facts. Students’ curiosity is still powering their interest into the story writing activity and it won’t be lost over mentioning some grammar or vocabulary issues. The teacher can guide the students to better language but should not correct the actual events of the story at this point.

After this, the students are still not sure if they really have the full idea of the story. Then play the commercial again with the sound. Every eye will be focused intently with a smile growing on their faces.

In the glow of satisfied curiosity, the teacher can go back and finalize the story that was written, perhaps a few facts are missing or better vocabulary can be used or other language points covered.

Of all the exercises I have done with my students, this has always been the most popular and the most requested.

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Filed under commercials, films, innovative ideas, pairwork, teach english

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